Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hobbes on States

"In such condition [without a state], there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

-Thomas Hobbes
The Leviathan

I disagree that civilization is impossible without the state. I don't think we have any evidence that meaningfully supports that; we have a long history of society falling apart and the government crumbling, but I know of no example of the state withering away, and with it, it's society - except at the hands of other, more violent states, which is hardly owned wholly by withering states, as it's a threat for all states.

I find Hobbes' claims about the inability to create industry without the state very unconvincing. For example, the global black markets are ~2 trillion dollars. Germany GDP is around 3.3 trillion, the US GDP is at 15.6 trillion, and global GDP is at 71.6 trillion. This is in spite and opposition to states from around the world. The mafia and gangs wouldn't even exist in their modern form without State imposed prohibition. This seems to be the complete opposite of what Hobbes' quote would lead one to think - you could be harmed or killed by other people in your day to day life, you don't have the protection of the police, you are vilified by the media, and your whole life can be destroyed at any instant by the state. And yet... it flourishes.

The use of violence to prevent further violence has some merits. As a lesser of evils, it is better than the alternatives. But there is an option for the removal of violence, to only use it in defence from the use of violence of others. You don't have to play the arms race, you can de-arm, de-escalate. You can push for a society that repulses and expunges violence, rather than enshrining it in the largest institution available.

By resisting the withering of the state, you are saying: "I know enough. What we have here and now is sufficient, and should be imposed on all others until they become more politically or militarily powerful than myself and those with me." You take money by force to support your system, and you use violence against those who refuse to do obey. You do this on the basis of imaginary lines on a map, saying "All those within these lines fall under my jurisdiction." There is no further reasoning why Montana does not impose it's rules on Idaho, or why Canada does not impose it's rules on Alaska, aside from the difficulty in doing so.

If you form a state purely on a voluntary premise, where you rule none who do not consent and you do not extort support to maintain it's size, you do not create a state that is recognizable to modern cousins. If you create a state without basing it in coercion and violence, you aren't creating a state.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Baseless personal attacks and writing in public

I seem to have spent so long with theocrats self-selected out of my social circles that I forgot how viciously the personal attacks can come from challenging indoctrination. The few I have left are either good friends or they just laugh off whatever I say. If I'm going to continue writing in public about the State, and especially with the goal of eventually speaking in public, I'm going to have to work on getting a bit of a thicker skin. Many of the recent attacks have gotten me too riled up - even if I wouldn't change my response, which I don't think I would have in most cases, I need to keep my calm.

In the last few days, I have received direct personal attacks on my character and lifestyle, from at least 4 people who know absolutely nothing about me or my lifestyle. It's jaw dropping, really, how readily defenders of "virtue" will discard it out of reflex in an argument.

Though I'm not sure what I actually want my response to be. I've been trying to just point out the flaw and then move on, which I think is the "right" solution. My issue is that in this medium it's really hard to get feedback: the other person is almost never going to change their mind, and there's no audience "energy" to gauge from lurkers. 

If you read this, then perhaps you find the idea interesting. I have a request: whether it is for myself or for others, when we present and champion ideas in public, take a moment to let us know when we do well. Mention the arguments you liked, or when you liked our demeanour, whether we were too "hot" or "cold", or anything of that sort. Or even just a "thank you for taking the time". It's so hard to get ANY feedback that anything will be good.

Even if it's a critique of the delivery method, or something from above, still let us know. If we react badly, it's easy to block them. And you never know - we might react positively, and you found a new contact to share and exchange ideas with.

Friday, April 19, 2013

National Ask an Atheist Day

Today for Ask an Atheist day, I was asked a rather difficult question - and one I felt should be given it's own post.  "What has religion done to harm [me], personally?"  Previously, I believe this person has told me that they are technically an atheist as well, though they really don't like the term.  This isn't just some Christian who feels picked on.

In the way the question is normally meant, I'd have to say "Nothing".  I was raised irreligious, where faith was not raised as a question at all, and it only came up when I brought it up myself.  I grew up in a very religious town, with my highschool clique including the pastor's daughter and the ... whatever Mike was, I never remember the name of it.  I went to youth group a few times, and was surprised when prayer and The Bible came out, but it just seemed like the rituals that everyone else did; it had no meaning, more or less than that.  In large part, I thank those people and those experiences for giving me such an optimistic view of theists.  I've written before about how those people have helped me grow and develop, and how I certainly don't hold their faith against them.

When I think of the harm caused by religion in relation to me, be it global criminal organizations like the RCC, or "harmless" family introduction to the rituals and dogma, I think of the impacts as either systemic (and impacting myself) or indoctrinational (and impacting the helpless), for lack of better terms. I don't think there is much difference between them in reasoning, but they have very different emotional appeals to both myself and when I use them in rhetoric.

The systemic impacts are things like gay marriage, pro-choice, or church-state separation.  These may or may not have a direct impact on me, but they certainly have significant effects on society.  These are battles I fight to improve society, where the goal is to arrive at the best decision.  I hope that I'm already holding that point, but I don't assume it.  I want us to actually reach that, or at least approach it in a good faith effort.  So far as people hold theistic beliefs, but don't put those forward as justification in these discussions, I hold no serious beef.  But once "Because [God/The Bible/Jesus/My pet rock] said so" enters the discussion, you have to justify two things: 1) Says who? and 2) Okay, so why should I care?  I won't really address those here, but suffice to say, the vast majority of the world also finds these arguments uncompelling - when presented from any religion but their own.  I just go one religion further.

The other category is when it directly impacts individuals.  When I fight the Judaistic-inspired normalization of cosmetic infant male circumcision ("circumcision" as most people know it, but it always results in a fight if I don't add every qualifier every time), or the indoctrination of children with the fear of hell, or undermining a child's ability to reason and critically think so as to protect the family's particular flavour of dogma, or the social abandonment that closeted atheists fear - these are even less directly attached to me.  My own circumcision was for legitimate medical reasons, and I have no issue with it.  I was not raised, nor will I be kidnapped and brainwashed to suffer from the other two, and I've been an atheist - by one label or another - for my whole life.  But these individuals all deserve our greatest efforts, as a society, to protect them compared to other candidates.  These are all direct inflictions of harm upon those who cannot help themselves, either through literal dependence and helplessness, or for the harm that will be directly aimed at them.

Back to "how has religion harmed me, personally?"  None.  And I feel that is one of my strengths, that I come from such an earnest and harmless background.  I am often one of the people at the front of the line to defend the religious, to remind others that they are human and that they too deserve our compassion, our support, our friendship, and our respect.  But I am uncompromising in demanding the best of these people, that they act with the same standards of rationality and reason that we place upon any other, and that when confronted with these, they should put in a good faith effort to reconsider their behaviour.  I just happen to think that when that happens, religion as we know it today will dissolve faster than we could have ever seriously pictured even a generation ago.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope grinding

I've been grinding away at this new pope thing a lot. I really don't care about the new pope. But why?

I know a lot of people care only because his hat makes him an instant celebrity. And there is the fact that he is now the divine leader of a billion people and one of the largest criminal organizations in the modern world.
At the same time, we have Karl posting quotes that the pope made years ago, when he was a young cardinal of only 70. And as much as that feels like an appeal to his celebrity - the pope's, not Karl's - that just doesn't seem like something Karl would do.

So, am I just indifferent because I don't have a horse in the race? I'm a proud atheist and I live in one of the most irreligious regions of North America - 35% and climbing, before adjusting for age demographics.

Or am I actually discounting his opinion more /because/ he's the pope? I'd like to think I'd be bothered if a random person on the street said the same things Francis I did six years ago. So am I discounting it because it was six years ago, or am I holding him less accountable because he's pope and I just expect flowery-smelling sewage to stream out of his mouth?

Something here isn't sitting right with me. I guess I'll grind at it for a few more days.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Irreligious Definitions

Because those of us without an organized religion don't have, well, an organization to label us by, the terms to describe us can be a bit nebulous and confusing.  As with most discussions, having common definitions is critical to moving on to the actual merits of your arguments, so here are some of the common terms that help define the landscape.  I've tried to keep them both accurate to both the academic and the common usage as much as possible.

God - A little-g god is, generally, defined as a being outside of space and time, and capable of inexplicable power.  Exceptionally hard to nail down a more specific definition.
God - Big-g God is commonly used to refer directly to the Christian or Abrahamic god.

Allah translates to English to mean "The god", making it also Big-g God.
Yahweh is old enough that we can't be certain, but current thought is that his name is actually more descriptive, coming out as either "The Creator" or "He who falls (storms and enemies)".  I think this is probably because he originated before monotheism was "a thing".

Theism - The belief in at least one god.  This also carries strong connotations of the god or gods intervening in our universe.

Deism - The belief in at least one god.  By contrast, this usually means that the god or gods are no longer around; they created the universe and then left.

Polytheism - The belief in at least two gods.
Monotheism - The belief in exactly one god.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all go here.

Pantheism - I got this one wrong when I first posted it.  It's the belief that the universe is the physical manifestation of God, rather than a separate creation by God.

Gnosticism - The belief that you can know and/or do know whether there is or is not a god or gods.
Agnosticism - The inverse, that you cannot know and/or do not know whether there is a god or gods.

Anti-theism - The belief that there is no god.
Atheism - Commonly means the belief that there is no god.  Since that's actually the definition for anti-theism though, atheism is a bit more subtle - it's the lack of belief.  If you think of Innocent or Guilty, atheism is "not guilty".  In short, there isn't enough evidence to believe that a god actually exists.

Most persons of strong faith are Gnostic Theists, where they 1) believe there is a god, 2) believe they can, and do, know that there is a god, and 3) that this god is a "personal" god, and has intervened in the universe, and likely, their own lives.

Irreligious - A person who does not follow organized religion.
Religious - A person who does follow an organized religion.

These have no distinction for a god belief.  If someone believes in a god and that Jesus was probably divine, but is separated from the codification of any particular Christian church, they are irreligious.
Buddhism, by contrast, is structured and codified and organized.  It does not, however, make any claims about a god at all, making it compatible with other religions.  This makes Buddhism inherently atheistic, though you can add theism to flavour.

Agnostic - A person who does not believe we know, one way or the other, that a god exists.  In my personal experience, including when I used this to describe myself, persons who use this label generally hold faith to be a deeply personal issue with no right or wrong, and say "to each their own".
Atheist - A person who doesn't believe in a god.  In my personal experience, persons who use this label generally hold the merits of faith to be open to debate and scrutiny, and find those merits lacking.
Arrogant atheist - Aside from being an ad-hominem attack (calling someone names, essentially), these are atheists as described above who feel the merits are so lacking as to deserve ridicule and mockery.

Superstition - A belief in the supernatural.  Atheism only responds to the god claim, so there are still atheists who believe in ghosts and such, but they are often among the minority for self-described atheists.

And now, a brief history lesson:

Christian is a relatively new term to be brought into common use.  While it had meaning, the term was largely empty and unused before the 1960's.  Prior to that time, Christians usually identified as their sects - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and so on.  As such, Atheism was actually one of the largest "religious" sects in the west, and politicians attempted to distance themselves from their religion and befriend atheists in an attempt to show that they would not mess with the other Christian sects.  With the 60's though came the fight against legalized abortion, and sparked the great reunification of Christianity.

Before the industrial revolution, atheists as we know them today were exceedingly rare.  Because there were so many unknowns even in day to day life, it was mind boggling how there could be no god at all.  The skepticism often took the form of deism, rather than atheism.  This conceeded that perhaps the universe was started by a god or gods, but that they have either left or choose to not interfere with our world.  As science has filled in many of the gaps, with sanitation and germ theory, up to geology and cosmology, it's no longer impossible to believe in no god at all.

Evolution Definitions

I wrote this post up a while ago in relation to a discussion I was having about evolution.  I posted it on Facebook at the time, but I forgot to put it up here.  So... here it is.  If nothing else, at least I can reference it later.

Not that a million other people haven't done this, but I doubt most anything I post is all that original. I've tried to make sure all terms and definitions are real, accurate, and succinct. I mean brief. Right, I also tried to use as much normal English as reasonably possible.

Evolution - The build up of changes in a species of organism over generations.

Micro evolution - Smaller changes that do not change the "essence" of a family of organisms, and do not cause speciation.

Macro evolution - Larger changes that do change the "essence" of a family of organisms, and/or does cause speciation. This is what my post this morning was about.

Aristotelian essence - "Of Aristotle". In this case, he is credited with creating a whole school of thought around what "it"-ness is, what makes something itself, and not something else. If you're reading this, you might enjoy reading up on it more here.
Also, you now know a 6-syllable word.

Speciation - The point where two populations with the same ancestor can no longer interbreed. All modern dogs can interbreed, but they cannot breed with bears despite the common ancestor.

Ring Species - These are populations that blur the line of speciation. A can breed with B, and B can breed with C, but A cannot breed with C. They get their name from a population breeding and spreading around a valley or an island, in a circle, so that when the two groups meet on the other side they can no longer interbreed, even though they can both still breed with the original population.

An explanation with pictures can be found here.

Mutation - A change in the structure or placement of genes. Common types are:

Deletion - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is skipped and doesn't get copied.
Duplication - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is copied twice.
Translocation - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is copied but put in the wrong place in the strand.

Selection Pressures - Any condition that changes whether a specific trait is negative (reduces reproduction rate), positive (increases reproduction rate), or benign (does not change reproduction rate).

Natural Selection - The primary means of selecting mutations in nature. The traits commonly positively selected here will be related, but not limited to, nutrient collection, energy efficiency, predator deterrence/protection, and mate selection/attraction.

Selective Breeding, aka Artificial Selection - One of the forms of human selectivity. Obvious examples are dog breeds and race horses, or selective plant pollination. Less well known are cases like Aurochs, the predecessor to the modern day cow, and bananas, which are a mutation of the plantain and aren't actually speciated.

"More evolved" - The idea that one species is more adapted than another. This usually involves a lot of judgements about the current environment or applies human values (such as thinking more gooder) to the target species. Because of the subjectivity of the claim, I feel it's generally meaningless. You could argue that it's based on the number of genes present, but that also has problems: what about genes that don't do anything? Anyway, there are plenty of other organisms that have way more genes than humans. These include a plant with 50x more genes, or an ameoba that has >200x more genes than us.

Aneuploidy - Having too many or too few chromosomes. Common examples are Down Syndrome, or XYY males. This was something I cited in this morning's post without knowing the name.

BONUS - No promises about normal English here.
Teleology - Any claim that nature has a goal or intent, in the way that humans do. In this case, that evolution is trying to make the most highly evolved organisms possible. Evolution is thought to be a byproduct of accidental mutations, guided by a selection process of current adaptations in the current environment, rather than a consciousness that has a specific life form in mind.

I normally come across this concept in theology, in the form "God created the universe so that we would be here today." Without knowing God, we cannot know that this was his intent rather than a butterfly-effect, some accidental happenstance from his actions. Assuming of course that God is real, an assumption I don't usually make.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Property rights are core to our way of life, or so we've been told.  It's a fundamental reality that we have to accept, and we are rewarded quite well for it.  Of course, there have been a few times with my philosophy ramblings that people have responded with "Are you even sure property exists?" And I've always responded with "yea, duh."

Well... maybe not.

I have property.  You have property.  We can trade that property with each other, or with other people.  It works fine for all the people and property you magically add to the system.  It's completely consistent with the abstract concept of currency.  Things seem to get flaky when you try to claim property though.  To start, a definition of property rights.

A monopoly of access to an idea or an object.

Traditionally in the west, I believe we have solved property claiming with homesteading.  You own yourself and your labour.  You mix your labour with unclaimed property and suddenly you own it.  So property rights become:

A monopoly of access to an idea or object because of labour involved with the harvesting, collecting, or manipulation of the object or idea.

But then the contradictions fracture.  What happens when someone else also mixes their labour in, with or without your permission?  What if it was a joint project?  What happens when you abandon it?  How long do you have to abandon it?  How does it persist through death?  Suddenly, our definition of property rights looks more like this:

A monopoly of access to an idea or object because of labour involved with the harvesting, collecting, or manipulation of the object or idea, within a set time frame, that you have not abandoned, and where your labour is greater than any other persons.

And suddenly we have variables: when does the time frame start, when does it end, what constitutes abandonment, and what unit are we measuring labour in?  Property is no longer universal, but has variables that someone has to set.  And if you set those variables to infinitely small volumes, or the authority of any other person to set those variables -- property goes *POOF*.

Don't get me wrong, I think property rights are amazingly progressive, and possibly required for modern society to sustain itself.  But I think property rights are an illusion, and thus violation of them is no longer a morally-charged act.  It's neither moral, nor immoral.

I think this has ramifications to ownership of self even, and pretty well everything else.  Did I miss a step in here, or over-reach an assumption somewhere?  And here I thought shedding Statism was a whole different world... eep.